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Two Taps: Hawkshead Brewery and The Watermill Inn

It’s with great shame that I admit I’d never heard of The Watermill until coming across it in Adrian Tierney-Jones’ wonderful book, Great British Pubs. What’s this? I stuttered. An Inn that brews its own beer? And it’s massively dog-friendly? And a mere two miles from Stavely, home of Hawkshead Brewery?

It couldn’t have been more tailor-made for me unless it was in Stavely itself. So, bookings were made, Wilson’s overnight bag arranged (kibble, waterbowl, retractable lead, copy of Modern Dog magazine, that sort of thing) and off we went, meandering up through Ilkley, Skipton Kirkby Lonsdale and finally arriving in Ings, home of The Watermill.

More on that later. first up, Hawkshead Brewery. A visit that I’d been hankering after reading Nick’s excellent dispatches and, more recently, Phil’s experience of their summer festival. Despite just being after 12 when we arrived, hungry wife and panting Border Terrier in tow and salivating at the thought of super-fresh Windermere Pale, the place was filling up nicely with a good mix of people; two elderly ladies sharing a pork pie platter and glasses of stout,  the obligatory coach visit of CAMRA types (the brewery t-shirts and relaxed attitude to ponytails giving the game away) and a couple of families. The tap itself is large, airy and light, and the staff are certainly attentive.

It took me a while to formulate the beer order though; there was just so much. Windermere Pale, Drystone Stout, USPA, NZPA, Red, Gold, Lakeland Lager…in the end it was a toss-up between Windy Pale (one of those beers I just can’t pass up – ever) and Drystone Stout for me; the Drystone being  particularly impressive this time. Smooth, sweet, and heavy on the woody, bramble-fruit notes, it disappeared in about four gulps and proved the perfect foil to our cheeseboard and Scotch Egg lunch (thanks Nick, you were right about the eggs).

It’s only when standing in front of Hawkshead’s range that you realise that they’ve absolutely nailed the ‘Brewery for all seasons‘ angle. Whether it’s the comforting maltiness of Best or Red that you’re craving, or the hop-hits of USPA, NZPA that’s driving you, there’s something for everyone. Lakeland Lager and Gold couldn’t be more refreshing in the close heat, but if it’s colder then the autumnal, rich Brodie’s Prime is your man. It’s a modern tap, alright – wood and chrome and leather-backed chairs – but it’s one that you’d be daft to miss out on visiting if close by.

Our lodgings, The Watermill Inn, also has a decent reputation in doing things just right with a minimum of fuss. Our room was huge, frankly, and the place maintained a busy buzz in the deceptively large bar area most of the day. Of course, the main attraction is the brewery (see the website for the story behind the kit) and the incredibly dog-friendly attitude of the Inn; all the beers – which sees up to 6 or 7 on the bars at any time – are dog-themed, and well-brewed. Over the course of the evening I sampled a fair few of them, with the Blonde being my personal favourite; a light, airy pint with a super-dry finish doused with Lemon and Lime. The dark mild, Blackbeard, was another highlight later in the evening.

As the night drew in, the pub filled with walkers, guests and drinkers, 80% of them with a four-legged friend in tow. Our food was good and hearty – my Fish and Chips was amongst the best I’ve had in a pub; a huge, succulent fish, thick, crispy beer batter, sitting on a bed of mushy peas and home-made chips. The menu is simple but tasty and reasonable in price, and there is a bar for non-dog lovers.

Those that know me know that I’m not one for striking up conversations with random people – even in bars – unless pushed, but the thing about owning a dog is that you automatically find common ground; especially so if both parties are holding frothing pints of beer brewed all of 15 feet away. Still being warm, we  moved to the tables outside, nestled next to a meandering stream, chatted to every punter that passed, met dog after dog after dog, and generally had a great time. Faith in the human race was restored, and we’re already planning our next visit.

We retired to bed happy and full. What more can you ask? A great British Pub, indeed.

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